With a letter requesting his release on bail from the Information Minister himself, jailed journalist Ros Sokhet sounded confident of an early release following his appeal hearing at the Ministry of Justice yesterday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mr Sokhet to two years in prison last November after convicting him of disseminating disinformation for sending disparaging text messages to media personality Soy Sopheap.
Mr Sokhet was detained, charged, indicted and put on trial all in one day last October, with mystifying speed for a court that has taken weeks and months to do the same in other cases. After a brief delay to the trial to let Mr Sokhet find a lawyer, the court sentenced him the following week.
Yesterday’s hearing at the Court of Appeal followed two previously cancelled dates. Judge Pol Samoeun said the court would announce its decision on whether to uphold the original verdict Oct 28.
After an animated back-and-forth with the panel of judges and his own lawyer, Sam Sokong, Mr Sokhet said he was confident of success.
“On the 28th I will be released,” he told a reporter.
Mr Sokhet has some grounds for hope. Nhem Noy, director of the Information Ministry’s media center, confirmed yesterday that Information Minister Khieu Kanharith had asked that the journalist be released.
“Information Minister Khieu Kanharith wrote the Justice Ministry on Oct 14 to intervene that Ros Sokhet be release on bail,” Mr Noy said.
Mr Noy noted that Mr Kanharith, a former journalist himself, was acting out of a personal desire not to see any journalists imprisoned for disinformation. Reached by telephone yesterday in Bangkok, Mr Kanharith declined to speak with a reporter and did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment by deadline.
Justice Ministry Cabinet chief Sam Pracheameanith confirmed receipt of Mr Kanharith’s letter yesterday and said it was still under review on its way to the minister.
The charge against Mr Sokhet stems from four text messages he sent Mr Sopheap in October 2009 questioning whether the news anchor had extorted money from Ke Dara, the jailed wife of an adviser to National Assembly President Heng Samrin. Ms Dara was sentenced to 18 months in jail for firing a gun into the air during a traffic altercation.
During yesterday’s hearing, Mr Sokhet rejected the dissemination claim, insisting that he sent the texts to Mr Sopheap alone. His lawyer, Mr Sokong, added that the Municipal Court lacked evidence to prove otherwise and urged the judges to question anyone else he supposedly sent them to.
“The court has to release my client, Mr Sokhet, because there is no evidence to charge him,” Mr Sokong said. “The [Municipal Court] did not investigate this case and sentenced my client.